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What is Subacromial Bursitis?

Subacromial bursitis is a prevalent condition that causes pain and discomfort in the shoulder. It involves the inflammation of the subacromial bursa, a small fluid-filled sac located between the acromion (part of the shoulder blade) and the rotator cuff tendons. This bursa plays a crucial role in reducing friction and allowing smooth shoulder movement. Inflammation of this bursa can severely restrict movement and cause significant pain.

what is subacromial bursitis

Anatomy of the Subacromial Bursa

The subacromial bursa is one of several bursae located in the shoulder area. Its primary function is to facilitate the gliding motion of the rotator cuff tendons beneath the acromion. This bursa reduces friction between the acromion and the tendons, allowing for smooth and pain-free shoulder movement.

  • Location: The subacromial bursa is situated between the acromion and the rotator cuff tendons.

  • Structure: It is a thin, sac-like structure filled with fluid, which acts as a cushion and aids to minimise friction.

  • Function: The bursa cushions the tendons during shoulder movements, particularly during overhead activities.

Physiology of Subacromial Bursitis

Subacromial bursitis occurs when the bursa becomes inflamed, often due to repetitive motion or direct trauma.

  • Causes: Repetitive overhead activities, direct trauma, or underlying conditions like arthritis can lead to bursitis.

  • Symptoms: Pain in the shoulder and upper outer arm, especially when lifting the arm, tenderness, swelling and reduced range of motion.

  • Diagnosis: Typically diagnosed through physical examination, patient history and imaging studies like ultrasound or MRI.

Likely Duration and Prognosis

The duration and prognosis of subacromial bursitis depend on various factors, including the severity of the condition, the underlying cause, and the effectiveness of treatment. Understanding the difference between acute and chronic bursitis is crucial for managing expectations and treatment plans.

Acute Bursitis

Acute bursitis is typically a short-term condition that can resolve within a few weeks with appropriate care. It often results from a specific injury or a sudden increase in repetitive activities.

  • Duration: Acute bursitis usually resolves within 2-6 weeks.

  • Prognosis: With prompt treatment, including rest, cold therapy and physiotherapy, acute bursitis has an excellent prognosis. Most patients experience significant pain relief and return to normal activities within a few weeks.

Chronic Bursitis

Chronic bursitis is a long-term condition that may persist for several months or even longer. It is often caused by repetitive stress, underlying medical conditions, or insufficient treatment of an acute episode.

  • Duration: Chronic bursitis can last several months and may require ongoing management.

  • Prognosis: The prognosis for chronic bursitis varies. Early and consistent treatment can improve outcomes, but some patients may experience recurrent episodes. Long-term management strategies, including physiotherapy, activity modification and lifestyle changes, are essential for managing chronic bursitis effectively.

How Physiotherapy Can Help with Subacromial Bursitis

Physiotherapy is essential in managing subacromial bursitis. At Team Rehab UK Ltd, our expert physiotherapists use a combination of techniques to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation and restore shoulder function.

  1. Manual Therapy: Techniques such as massage and joint mobilisation to reduce pain and improve mobility.

  2. Exercise Therapy: Tailored exercise programmes help to strengthen shoulder muscles, improve flexibility, address adverse postural loading and ultimately reduce strain on the bursa.

  3. Taping: Kinesiotape can be applied to the shoulder in some cases to help alleviate pressure and pain. It can also be used to either encourage certain muscles to work harder, or conversely, to try and reduce the activity of a muscle if it needs to be rested.

  4. Electrotherapy: Historically modalities like ultrasound and TENS to reduce pain and inflammation have been used; however, these have fallen out of fashion in the last decade due to lack of evidence.

  5. Education: Providing patients with information on proper posture, ergonomics, and activity modification to prevent recurrence.

  6. Above and Below: Any experienced therapist will tell you how important it is to look at the anatomy around the painful site as well as the painful area as well. It is not unusual for the site of pain to be a symptom caused by other factors, such as poor postures or mechanics, so simply treating that site will not necessarily give you a long-term solution or short-term relief.

Types of Treatment to cure Subacromial Bursitis

Rest and Activity Modification

Reducing activities that aggravate the condition is crucial in managing subacromial bursitis. Rest allows the inflamed bursa to heal, and avoiding repetitive overhead movements can prevent further irritation. Incorporate ergonomic adjustments and activity modification to minimise stress on the joints. Taking frequent breaks and using proper techniques during activities can also help reduce strain on the shoulder.

Cold Therapy

Applying ice packs can significantly reduce swelling and pain. Ice should be applied for 10-20 minutes several times a day, especially after activities that exacerbate symptoms. This helps in controlling inflammation and providing pain relief. Cold therapy is most effective when used in the initial stages of bursitis and after activities that aggravate the condition.


  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen can alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. These medications are typically recommended for short-term use to manage acute symptoms and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional to avoid potential side effects.

  • Corticosteroid Injections: In more severe cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered directly into the bursa to provide rapid relief from inflammation.

Why Choose Team Rehab UK?

At Team Rehab UK Ltd, we pride ourselves on providing honest, high-quality and integrative physiotherapy care. Our team of highly experienced chartered physiotherapists is dedicated to delivering personalised treatment plans tailored to each patient's needs.

With over 16,500 sessions completed, our expertise and commitment to patient care are unmatched.

For expert care and a tailored approach to treating subacromial bursitis, trust Team Rehab UK Ltd. Book an appointment today and start your journey towards a pain-free life.

FAQs about Subacromial Bursitis

1. What is subacromial bursitis?

Subacromial bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa located under the acromion in the shoulder, causing pain and limited movement.

2. How is subacromial bursitis diagnosed?

A healthcare provider diagnoses subacromial bursitis through a physical examination and may use imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

3. What are the common treatments for subacromial bursitis?

Treatment options include rest, ice therapy, NSAIDs, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and in rare cases, surgery.

4. Can subacromial bursitis be prevented?

Yes, it can be prevented by maintaining proper ergonomics, engaging in regular exercise, incorporating stretching exercises, and avoiding activities that cause shoulder pain.

5. Is surgery commonly required for subacromial bursitis?

Surgery is rarely needed and is only considered when conservative treatments do not alleviate the symptoms.

6. How long does it take to recover from subacromial bursitis?

Recovery time varies; acute bursitis may resolve within 2-6 weeks, while chronic bursitis may require several months of treatment and ongoing management.

By understanding subacromial bursitis and adopting appropriate treatment and prevention strategies, individuals can effectively manage this condition and maintain shoulder health.

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